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Shake hands with a glacier.

Shake hands with a glacier

Broad fingers of ice reach down themountainside, almost near enough to grasp. You don't have to be a mountaineer to approach Mount Rainier's glaciers --our country's greatest concentration of glacial ice outside Alaska. And seeing and hearing them up close is part of what makes a hike in Mount Rainier National Park so memorable.

More massive than any other mountain inthe West and confronted by moist maritime weather, 14,410-foot Mount Rainier captures snowfalls of up to an astonishing 1,100 inches a year to feed its 27 named glaciers. And Rainier is easy to reach-- about an hour from I-5 on the west or I-82 and I-90 on the east.

July will be a good month to visit in thislight-snow year; August may be even better. Crevasses expose icy blue depths, and the summer sun urges on the pace of glacial activity. Trails are snow-free, and the weather about as predictably good as it gets on this unpredictable mountain.

But remember: it can snow on Rainier'ssummit any day of the year and get miserably cold at much lower elevations. Be sure to bring proper clothing, rain gear, map and compass, and other essentials. And don't venture onto a glacier unless you're an experienced mountaineer.

The mostly easy hikes we outline take youto four major glaciers, one on each side of the park. Just a hundred miles from Seattle and a bit farther from Portland, the park lets you see the relentless action of these rivers of ice. With a back-country camping permit (see page 47), the trip to Carbon Glacier can extend overnight.

A $5 fee per vehicle is charged at parkentrances; pick up a free park map as you enter. Summer visitors will find a cafeteria, snack bar, and dining room at Paradise, a cafeteria at Longmire, and a snack bar at Sunrise. There's overnight lodging at Longmire and Paradise, but it's fully booked through Labor Day.

Glaciers at work--what to look for

I's easy to think of mountains as timelessmonuments to nature's perfection. The reality is that they are always changing, though at speeds ordinary human observation can rarely detect.

Not so with glaciers--they may move justa foot or two a day, but it's enough for untrained eyes to see and ears to hear.

Generally, Rainier's glaciers have beenretreating over the past century. On some trails, you can see that retreat and subsequent revegetation as you climb from old-growth forest to glacial heights.

First come the older moraines (accumulationsof glacier-deposited rock debris), with young trees but little topsoil. Next you reach newer moraines reviving with flowers and shrubs.

Then comes the barren country whereglacier-polished slabs show striations caused when rocks trapped in ice slowly gouged their way across bedrock. Finally, closest to the glaciers, are areas only recently uncovered by retreating ice.

To learn more, look over the exhibits atParadise Visitor Center (a time-lapse film shows how a glacier flows). Through Labor Day, rangers lead walks from here five times a day. Sunrise Visitor Center (opens July 3) also has exhibits; both are open 9 to 8 daily through Labor Day, then shorter hours.

An excellent book is A Visitor's Guide toMount Rainier Glaciers, by Carolyn L. Driedger, available in visitor centers for about $5. Best hiking guide: 50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, by Ira Spring and Harvey Manning (The

Mountaineers, Seattle, 1978; $6.95). You can also pick up free detailed trail maps at the visitor centers.

Hiking choices to four glaciers

These are popular walks--expect company.Each hike is safe, as long as you stay on the trail. If you're an experienced cross-country hiker, there are better views from some off-trail moraines and climbers' way trails (check with rangers first).

If you do leave the trail to clamber onto amoraine, stick to the ridgetop (you'll often find a beaten footpath here), avoiding the unstable side hills.

Glaciers are most active on warm days;you might try to time your visit accordingly. Midday heat quickens movement, spurs avalanches, starts waterfalls roaring, and fills streams with runoff. Bring binoculars for better viewing.

For hiking help or to arrange free back-countrycamping permits, call the hiker information center at the park office in Longmire,(206) 569-2211; it's open (hours vary) daily through September.

Carbon Glacier . . . a spectacular lesson in glaciation

See the debris-covered terminus of thelowest-lying glacier in the country outside Alaska (at about 3,600 feet).

From the Carbon River Entrance off StateRoute 165 south of Enumclaw, drive 5 miles southeast to road's end at Ipsut Creek Campground, elevation 2,300 feet.

Hike the Wonderland Trail 3 1/2 milesgenerally south to the glacier's blackened terminus. Listen to the sloughing of ice and rock transported from ridges near Rainier's summit. Originating in a deeply carved cirque, this glacier carries a heavy load of rock and rubble. The snout is unstable; don't venture past warning signs.

Emmons Glacier . . . largest in the continental United States

It's about 5 miles long, 1 1/2 miles wide.Trails take you to the glacier's rubbly snout or to a high overlook.

From the White River Entrance off StateRoute 410 southeast of Enumclaw, drive 5 miles southwest on White River Road to a junction. For the Emmons terminus, turn left and drive 1 mile to White River Campground, elevation 4,400 feet.

The White River Trail climbs 1,400 feet in3 1/2 miles to meadowy Glacier Basin with attractive trail campsites. But for a view of the glacier terminus, turn left a mile up the way onto Emmons Moraine Trail and follow it across a footbridge and into a wasteland of rock heaps and stunted trees.

The trail thins, then disappears in about 1/2mile. But the views of the blackened snout--a hundred-foot-high wall of ice--are impressive. Note small blue and turquoise ponds, the colors signifying varying amounts of suspended rock silt. Dirty ice, slow-melting leftovers from the last glacial retreat, shows beneath some rock piles.

For the overview hike, drive on White RiverRoad from the campground junction another 10 miles to Sunrise Lodge and Visitor Center, 6,403 feet. Across the parking lot from the ledge, take the easy Emmons Vista Trail 1/4 mile to an overlook with interpretive exhibits.

For more views, continue westerly onSunrise Rim Trail a mile to Shadow Lake, then past a walk-in campground and on another 1 1/2 miles, passing the view shown on page 44. Climb steeply to 7,300-foot First Burroughs Mountain and ever-grander views of Emmons and Winthrop glaciers, Curtis Ridge, and Willis Wall.

Some years, late-lingering snow patchesacross the trail make the ascent inappropriate for novices or young children; check conditions with rangers first.

For a loop return, follow the WonderlandTrail from Burroughs Mountain past Frozen Lake back to Sunrise (2 3/4 miles).

Nisqually Glacier . . . easily observed from short walks to a pair of overlooks

From the Nisqually Entrance, drive 18miles to Paradise Visitor Center (5,400 feet). The road is being resurfaced; expect delays up to 1/2 hour. The Nisqually Vista Trail starts near the north end of the parking lot.

Stay left at a junction, and in 1/4 mile reachNisqually Vista (5,252 feet) on the edge of a canyon. With a Nisqually Glacier Map ($3.60) from the visitor center, note the retreat of the terminus since 1840. Follow the loop trail back, gaining 200 feet on the return; round trip is 1 1/4 miles.

Or, from the trail junction, stay right andfollow signs a long mile to Glacier Vista (6,335 feet) via Dead Horse Creek and Skyline trails; round trip is about 2 miles. Or bypass Glacier Vista and follow Skyline a little farther to aptly named 6,800-foot Panorama Point (2 1/2 miles round trip).

Tahoma Glacier . . . split by a ridge that gives superb views of both lobes

Emerald Ridge (pictured above) is yourgoal on this hike.

From the Nisqually Entrance, drive a mileinto the park and turn left onto Westside Road (hard-packed dirt); continue 8 1/2 miles over 4,000-foot Round Pass to South Puyallup Trail, elevation 3,600 feet. Hike about 1 1/2 miles through old-growth forest to Wonderland Trail; turn right on it and climb 1 3/4 miles to the ridge (5,600 feet) and the beginning of glacier views. Hear the creak and groan of tons of ice shifting beneath the sun a few hundred yards below the trail.

Before turning back, follow the crest ashort way to where the trail turns right and descends to Tahoma Creek. Experienced hikers can continue cross-country along the ridgetop another 1/4 mile to where land meets ice.

Photo: Awesome expanses of ice greet hikers near 6,400-foot view point after easy 1 1/2-mile walk along Sunrise Rim Trail from visitor center

Photo: On natural history walk from Paradise,ranger points out retreats and advances of Nisqually Glacier since 1840

Photo: Rumpled causeway of Tahoma Glacier isabout 3 miles up Emerald Ridge Trail
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Title Annotation:Mount Rainier, Washington
Date:Jul 1, 1987
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